More on the “is technological change accelerating front, from Ars Technica:
Some economists have attempted to measure the spread of technology within various nations, and discovered it’s not just our imagination: newer tech is being adopted faster, and appears to account for some of the differences in GDP growth.
The authors chose 15 key technologies, starting with steamships, going through railways and telegraphs, and building up to cellphones and the Internet. They used data on adoption within the US to identify values for a few key parameters in their model, which needed to be determined empirically, and then set them loose on data from 165 other countries.
As a first pass, they identified a number of cases where the model failed to produce sensible data. “We consider an estimate implausible if our point estimate implies that the technology was adopted more than 10 years before it was invented,” which is a difficult standard to argue with. For the most part, the cases where the models failed involved major societal disruptions. For example, Japan’s adoption of motorized merchant shipping was severely curtailed by the fact that the US sank most of it during World War II. Decolonization also reversed the adoption curve in many cases, as it eliminated some of the relevant technical expertise and general organization in these nations.
Still, for about two-thirds of the technology-nation pairs, the models produced a result that met the authors’ criteria, allowing them to draw some general conclusions. For starters, the average adoption lag is 47 years, but it’s extremely variable across technologies and nations; as a result, the standard deviation is 39 years. The next key finding is that the pace of adoption is accelerating: “In particular, technologies invented ten years later are on average adopted 4.3 years faster.”